[Applications are now closed. Please apply to Open Phil or SFF or other funders]
Like most of you, we at Nonlinear are horrified and saddened by recent events concerning FTX.
Some of you counting on Future Fund grants are suddenly finding yourselves facing an existential financial crisis, so, inspired by the Covid Fast Grants program, we’re trying something similar for EA. If you are a Future Fund grantee and <$10,000 of bridge funding would be of substantial help to you, fill out this short form (<10 mins) and we’ll get back to you ASAP.
We have a small budget, so if you’re a funder and would like to help, please reach out: email@example.com
[Edit: This funding will be coming from non-FTX funds, our own personal money, or the personal money of the earning-to-givers who've stepped up to help. Of note, we are undecided about the ethics and legalities of spending Future Fund money, but that is not relevant for this fund, since it will be coming from non-FTX sources.]
[EDIT: I'd like to clarify that, strictly speaking, the comment below is gossip without hard substantiating evidence. Gossip can have an important community function - at the very least, from this comment you can conclude that things happened at Nonlinear which induced people (in fact, many people) to negatively gossip about the organization - but should also be treated as different from hard accusations, especially those backed by publicly available evidence. In the wake of the FTX fiasco, I think it's likely that people are more inclined to treat gossip of the sort I share below as decisive.
That said, I do think that the gossip below paints a basically accurate picture. I also have other reasons to distrust Nonlinear that I don't feel comfortable sharing (more gossip!). I know this is hard epistemic territory to work in, and I'm sorry. I would feel best about this situation if someone from, e.g., CEA would talk to some of the people involved, but I'm sure anyone who could deal with this is swamped right now. In the meantime, I think it's fine for this gossip to make you unsure about Nonlinear, but still e.g. consider applying to them for emergency funding. I personally wouldn't, but I have different information from you, and a community which overindexes on gossip will have problems.]
Considering recent events, I feel that I ought to share the following:
Based on things I've heard from various people around Nonlinear, Kat and Emerson have a recent track record of conducting Nonlinear in a way inconsistent with EA values. More specifically, they have a history of mistreating their employees and interns, and of not fulfilling obligations to them, including financial obligations and mentorship they promised to provide. I have general sense that they had a pattern of taking on young, idealistic interns with poor ability to stand up for themselves and exploiting them to a standard many would consider unacceptable (e.g. manipulating them into accepting unreasonably little pay, and sometimes not following through on payment when they thought they could get away with it).
As I understand things, in July 2022 a group of Nonlinear employees and interns quit because they were unhappy with either their own treatment or the treatment of their coworkers.
I've also heard that Emerson can be retributive, and that some people around Nonlinear were scared about Emerson finding out they'd spoken badly about him. (Generally speaking, to the extent that things were bad at Nonlinear, I have the general sense that Emerson, and not Kat, was the main source of bad behavior.)
I feel quite conflicted about posting this because:
But I decided to post anyway because I like to think that I've learned the hazards of waiting until after misbehavior is publicly revealed to write about the evidence that I had all along. Sorry for any unfortunate consequences of this comment.
If someone trusted would like to verify my identity and that I could plausibly have knowledge about this, I'd be willing to share my identity in a direct message.
I’m a current intern at Nonlinear and I think It would be good to add my point of view.
I was offered an internship by Drew around 3 months ago after I contributed to a project and had some chats with him. From the first moment I was an intern he made me feel like a valuable member of the team, my feedback was always taken seriously, and I could make decisions on my own. It never felt like a boss relationship, more like coworkers and equals.
And when I started putting in less hours, I never got “hey you should work more or this is not gonna work out” but rather Drew took the time to set up a weekly 1 on 1 to help me develop personally and professionally and get to know me.
I can only speak for myself but overall I’m very happy to be working with them and there’s nothing about the situation I would call mistreatment.
I worked closely with Kat for a year or so (2018-2019) when I was working at (and later leading) Charity Science Health. She's now a good friend.
I considered Kat a good and ethical leader. I personally learned a lot from working with her. In her spending and life choices, she has shown a considerable moral courage: paying herself only $12K/year, dropping out of college because she didn't think it passed an impact cost-benefit test. Obviously that doesn't preclude the possibility that she has willfully done harmful things, but I think willfully bad behavior by Kat Woods is quite unlikely, a priori.
First, I want to say that I do believe you have good intentions. Second, an important point about source diversity: we have heard from many people in the community that one particular disgruntled ex-employee was previously widely spreading these accusations.
While this person, no doubt, wasn’t the only disgruntled ex-employee, most people hear these allegations secondhand, and this creates an echo chamber where it can appear that there were more disgruntled ex-employees than actually existed.
I’d also like to ask, when did you get this information? There was a period in which we had an open disagreement with one of the former employees, and we believe we have since rectified it. It’s possible we already addressed some of these issues after you heard about them.
This is a problem with unsubstantiated rumors and gossip: people might hold an opinion about something even after that problem was fixed.
We can provide concrete evidence in terms of bank screenshots and recorded interviews showing that this is not true. We are happy to talk to CEA about it if they would like.
For mentorship, I do not know the standard for mentorship, but some previous interns found working at Nonlinear to be lifechanging. Some, I’m sure, wished there had been more mentorship.
Some people have not liked that we have unpaid internships, but we have always been up front and clear about that in our job ads and interviews.
For the accusation of the payment being delayed, we have heard that particular employee’s claims, and we can show receipts of DMs and bank transactions showing that they were saying things that are verifiably incorrect.
There were two employees who left in June. This is a complicated topic and would rather respect our ex-employees’ privacy by not mentioning the details publicly. Happy to talk with CEA about it.
This is a vague accusation that is hard to address. We can’t prove a negative.
This is gossip without providing any evidence and is impossible to disprove.
I personally am a mix of a rule utilitarian combined with a moral counsel approach due to moral uncertainty.
This is a good a reason to hear both sides before publicly accusing somebody of something.
In the future, I would ask both sides first before making allegations like this, especially in a public forum, because most people won’t come back to re-read the comments later.
People should definitely look into allegations against nonprofits. However, it’s important to look into them, not just report hearsay without doing proper due diligence. It’s important that EAs maintain good epistemics, not just publicly report any gossip that they’ve heard.
"one particular disgruntled ex-employee" - I am not an ex-employee, but happy to confirm working with you is not a pleasant experience for an employee. So there are at least two people in the EA community. I expect if CEA investigates, there would maybe be more?
After a ~5min online research on Emerson Spartz's past CEO role at his previous company "Dose", it looks like there were a lot more "disgruntled ex-employee[s]" (even if this is external to EA).
Overall, CEO approval is at 0%. Some examples out of the many:
There are many more negative and honestly very sad comments on Glassdoor.
Given the time it took me to look this up, I wonder if background checks are ever being done at EA in the first place (specifically when multi-b/millionaires such as SBF and Emerson feel the urge to embellish their reputation by suddenly becoming "highly caring altruists" without having displayed any signs of altruism before). Highly wealthy people could simply be treated like new hires at regular companies because they have a lot more power and are more likely to have different intentions than the average EA.
Doing quick background checks is a very low-cost and reasonable thing to do in order to protect EA and its members.
The problem with people like Emerson S. is that they come with a lot of private resources, enabling organizations like Nonlinear to pop up, rise and survive out of nowhere. They never had to gain the trust or follow standards like everyone else had to - they can just self-fund.
They're not subject to the same scrutiny as others.
This is even worse, given that they learned how to get so far/accumulate so much wealth in the first place: they know how to behave strategically to get what they want.
I am truly sorry for anyone who has had to endure such management practices inside and outside of EA. I hope that background checks will be normalized to avoid such problems in the future.
I’m surprised and sad to hear you now think that way about our past experience. The last time you reached out to me you were overwhelmingly positive towards me. Let me know if you’d like to talk about this more.
On a minor note, I felt important to say about the quote: we didn't claim there was only one disgruntled ex-employee. In fact, the next sentence says: "While this person, no doubt, wasn’t the only disgruntled ex-employee".
I was afraid of you because you were my boss, so I could not criticize your work and behavior, and I was scared to do it for a long time. I also know you as a very manipulative manager (just a subjective experience, no evidence here), so I was very afraid of you, and even given the above response, I still am. On the day you quit, I was about to talk to the leadership about quitting unless I no longer have to work with you. Luckily you quit, and I was able to stay in my highly impactful work. But yeah, I am still afraid of you, and it is very saddening to me there is no investigation into the gossip mentioned below. But again, I am just afraid of the manipulative skills I witnessed and you in general. Hopefully, some people can stand up to you.
While I feel bad that this conversation is happening on a post for what I'd consider an act of service to the EA community (coming in with extra funding at short notice for those affected by the FTX events), I'm grateful you feel comfortable speaking up about your experience now, and I think this information is also potentially useful to the EA community - thank you for this! I hope you are thriving where you are now.
At the same time, I think it could be useful for a third party to help with facilitating this (especially since this is what Ula seems to prefer), otherwise I worry we'll get into an acrimonious "your word against mine" situation. I don't know if this is within the scope of the CEA community health team?
This has almost certainly been flagged at the highest levels of CEA.
As to why exactly it's been so poorly that it's spilled out here, is beyond me. Likely relevant information on which to update on the competency of the CEA community health team.
Edit: I was feeling frustrated when I wrote this, and it no longer represents my views. I now understand more about how tricky these problems are to deal with.
True, but gossip is also normally shared between a few people in a private setting, and spreads organically that way. It is NOT shared publicly on the internet.
By spreading unconfirmed rumors on the internet, you are doing undue reputational damage that you CANNOT UN-DO. Imagine someone posting this about your institute and that showing up in search results.
This is completely unthoughtful and unnecessary behavior and it's insane to me how much of that happens on this forum. I really expect better from a community that claims to be very smart.
The community health team at CEA is available to talk about concerns like this. You can reach us here.
Hey Julia, this reads as if these problems have not been reported to the community health team. I understand (with modest confidence) that they have.
Drew and I have known each other for about 2 years. While it's only natural to issue appalled call-outs after hearing "from various people around Nonlinear", I am willing to continue to trust him and vouch for him and Nonlinear. No fairly large organization is immune from the corruption of wealth and power. Having said that, Drew, to me personally, engenders directness and sincerity in all the works we've pursued; I'll continue to trust him and vouch for him and Nonlinear unless evidence against them appears. It's said that the purpose of a system is what it does and to my 2 years of experience of them, they have been serving their purpose truthfully.
Thank you for sharing your concerns, though we do not feel this is the relevant or appropriate venue to discuss anonymous accusations from a former intern(s) without first discussing them privately, especially given the personal issues of the ex-interns involved and the fact that every organization has disgruntled former interns/employees.
Importantly, key details of the above can be easily proven false. For example, the outflux of people was just two people, who we have verifiable evidence we paid as much as we committed to.
We are DMing you right now, and if you do not respond promptly, we will respond publicly.
What you did was valuable, useful and brave.
With difficulty, trying to communicate in a way that gets at the heart of the issue and not pick out facts and tries to be fair:
My guess (50% true/certain) is that it's probably fair to say that Kat and Emerson have a bit of a hustle vibe (I mean look at Emerson's description).
Like I would do, and you would do, they try to maximize their local success. However, their output hasn't been extremely high. There might be a small departure from some EA cooperate norms, that might be due cultural differences.
With the greatest uncertainty, but the most importance?: I think the potentially major issue is that by trying to sit as a meta org, Nonlinear can attract inflows of EA talent that scales with the movement (and not their ability), and also self-replicate. That is bad for movement health and incentives. EA is also small enough (and the course has seen a negative trajectory) that this could be an issue, e.g. the lemons sit in the aftermath, there's a path dependency. The communication/publicity maximization adds to this concern.
As this thread shows, they are unpopular enough at this point, that I think the concerns are probably minor, like top #30-50 item on the list of things that CEA or OP needs to worry about in the next year or two.
I'm trying to more succinctly understand what you're saying since your second last paragraph has confusing wording. You're saying that Nonlinear can scale as EA scales (as opposed to scaling by their ability) and thereby attract competent clout like Emerson (since EA has become more famous as a whole it attracts big-shots), but that as an organization they don't yet produce enough value/output for someone like Emerson to be a good fit at their organization? And that this plausibly has a causal relationship to why there has been conflict? e.g. Emerson being a bad fit leads to him more easily getting frustrated with other employees?
(PS: just a note that this doesn't excuse Emerson mistreating employees if he was indeed mistreating employees. My comment here is just trying to understand what the comment above is saying since it confused me, but I think it might be valuable to clarify)
(n.b., My comment was referring to a quote in Kat's comment that they edited out at some point after I posted this.)
That blatant misquote is minor in the scheme of things but seems concerning.
a couple of comments on this from a mere bystander:
Unfortunately it seems like every major EA organisation will have allegations like this against them at some point.
Nitpick, but I found the sentence:
A bit strange in the context of the rest of the comment. If your characterization of Nonlinear is accurate, it would seem to be inconsistent with ~every plausible set of values and not just "EA values".
This wouldn't be that surprising, because Nonlinear are known to have violated various kinds of mild norms previously - they named an eponymous prize without consent from the named person or their estate, and they set up a podcast using text-to-speech without obtaining copyright permissions from the authors of the text.
Those accusations seem of a dramatically more minor and unrelated nature and don't update me much at all that allegations of mistreatment of employees are more likely.
Also, the naming was completely on me, not them, as I explained in another comment.
I largely agree with Ruby here, but wanted to note one comment, where one justification for "violating " (this word seems too strong) this norm was "a descendant of Truman would have to actually learn of this prize". If the research eventually done happened prior to the announcement, I think there would not be any meaningful update for me. OTOH, if this justification was a reason to not have done this research, and if it was applied more generally and not just for the naming of the prize, it would make me more suspicious that the allegations leveled against them are plausible, and it fits the "ends justify the means"-type reasoning that the OP refers to.
More minorly, they also manipulate things like voting scores on the EA forum (and pay a lot of attention to online presence).
More substantively but with greater uncertainly:
Back in 2021, there were a bunch of potential EA meta orgs, that are essentially natural monopolies, there can only be one. As another feature, these meta EA orgs naturally have to attract/involve a lot of EA resources and talent. The nature of these potential orgs is that they have less legible or viewable output (than say, distributing mosquito nets or producing research).
1+ grantmakers at a major EA grantmaking organization said it's known people didn't have ideal views on them (but suggested I meet with Kat because we had to, they were in the space).
After the meeting, I got a bit of an elbowing/redirection vibe, which in hindsight was extremely not justifiable by their output.
What is the evidence for manipulating voting scores? Feel free to say you can't share, but if it can be publicly evidenced in some way, as it seems it might, that would be more informative.
Here is one instance of what I consider vote manipulation.
I interpret the situation as an incident that Kat did not honor her word about content, Kirsten was upset, and Kat suppressed Kirsten's concerns. As you can see, Charles He (who seems otherwise unintelligent) pointed this out clearly.
I grudge providing this, and I do so because of interest which I think is disproportionate, as this is not substantive compared to the rest of the claims. Frankly, I assumed this voting behavior was common knowledge.
As a moderator, I think the phrase "seems otherwise unintelligent" is clearly not generous or collaborative and breaks Forum norms. This is a warning, please don't insult other users.
There's probably a rationale I don't understand here - but what's the reason for allowing someone to strong upvote their own comment, irrespective of whether the thread was about a misaction? (though this makes it worse).
Like do they get karma for doing this and are just doing this to boost their own karma? [Edit: deleted, as this does not appear to be the case, at least not when I tried it just now]
Are we suggesting that people with higher karma both make better comments and can be trusted to judge themselves independently? Are we not worried this could bias other peoples' judgements?
Would someone be happy to explain what forum norm I've broken with my above comment, or the reason for the strong downvote, given the voting norms?
If you think someone is breaking the Forum's rules, I encourage you to contact the moderation team.
If something seems sketchy but doesn't clearly break any rules, you should still reach out. The situation might lead to a rule change, or at least alert moderators to pay more attention to threads involving specific users.
FWIW, I don't love nonspecific allegations like this — it's nigh-impossible for Nonlinear to respond to them, and serves as a cheap or free way to make others think worse of them at no cost to yourself. By contrast, the initial comment at least gave enough information that Nonlinear could respond to some of the claims.
Is a claim like this something the moderators would have the ability to actually verify? If so, would a public claim like this be something the moderators would be interested in verifying? I similarly dislike the allegation as written and I think if this was verified in some way it would be useful regardless of the outcome
Depends on the claim.
When we (the moderation team) have a good reason to believe that norm-breaking behavior is going on, we can access information including which accounts voted, and how, on any given post or comment (we'd need to work with the developers on this; this information isn't readily available to us). To protect users' privacy, we check whether something is weird before we look at IDs by looking at things like the timing and weight of votes without looking at who voted.
But we don't investigate without good reason, both because we don't have capacity for it, and because we want to give users privacy. So we'd need a reason to investigate, which is where reports like this come in.
(You can also make the claims privately by directly getting in touch, which can be better than speculating publicly.)
I am satisfied with the truth, accuracy and confidence of my statements in this post. Based on some of the responses from Non-linear, I would probably change my content to increase my concerns somewhat.
I'm not immediately able to say anything useful about the meta question of anonymous comments—this seems extremely complicated and I probably might not agree if I think about it.
I might be anonymous (?) right now. I have unique reasons that I am anonymous, and I might not be for long.
I am interested if you have contravening information about my representations on my account, or any other concerns. Please write them publicly.
I know nothing about most of the discussion here, but...
That wasn't them, it was me. Since I came up with the prize, and suggested the name. Ryan reasonably reached out them to get clarity, and I wasn't initially in the loop, but that's a communication problem, not an ethics issue. And if you look at the comments, I really don't think it was mishandled.
I'm curious about what's the original source of the funding you're giving out here. According to this Nonlinear received $250k from Future Fund and $600k from Survival and Flourishing Fund. Is the funding being distributed here coming solely from the SFF grant? Does Nonlinear have other funding sources besides Future Fund and SFF?
(I didn't do any deeper dive than looking at Nonlinear's website, where I couldn't find anything about funding sources.)
Appreciate the question. We’ve received funding from different sources like the Survival and Flourishing Fund, Future Fund, and other private donors, with Emerson Spartz donating six figures annually.
This project would not fall under the scope of what the Future Fund granted us, so we will not be using their funding for this.
This is coming directly out of our operating budget, so we're aiming to make payouts that have a higher counterfactual likelihood of impact.
I would be very curious if there were any complaints about Nonlinear founders' work ethics sent to Community Liaison, that would confirm the points brought up here?
It would be great if the community at least investigated things that were brought up here in the comments, and actually talked with ex-employees about their experience.
My experience working with Katherine Savoie (this is the previous name of Kat Woods) was very negative.
Based on the gossip below, it looks like a pattern other people also experienced. I wonder if Community Liaison has investigated?
The gossip below seems well known in the community, hopefully CEA is already looking into it?
However, I am not sure how such a gossip could affect accepting funding from Nonlinear. It seems like this is beneficial to longterm projects? So I see no need to mix the two things.
Hi! Just a few questions:
I remember hearing that Emerson/Nonlinear invested quite a lot into crypto - presumably with the current markets, his/Nonlinear's portfolio must've taken a hit?
Secondly, Nonlinear received a Future Fund grant: https://ftxfuturefund.org/our-grants/?_search=nonlinear
Are you potentially concerned about clawbacks to the money you hand out, especially if you're dispersing small amounts to several people who could then be affected?
Also, will additional funders top you up, or will the money go directly to the people affected?
If funders top you up, would that potentially commingle FTX money with non-FTX funders' money?
Hi! Thanks for the questions.
Yes, most crypto people have taken a hit, including Emerson. As far as I know, he has no plans to slow down his donations to Nonlinear.
We’re not using Future Fund grant money for this. That being said, we are still gathering information, but based on our conversations with lawyers and distressed debt investors, we are not as concerned as some community members are about clawbacks, especially for very small grants. This may update in the future as more information comes out.
We have had several funders reach out to us. Still working out the details :)
Hm, how could this interact with hypothetical clawbacks?
I do think this is a good question, but on the other hand clawbacks will take months or years to happen. If an org expects to hold on to this money for that much time, emergency funding should probably be directed elsewhere.
I don't really understand the specific situation your describing, and this is not legal advice, but I think in general one can say that if how much money "your org" has (wherever they get it from) shouldn't really influence the size or validity of a hypothetical clawback claim, but it of course might influence if the claim is persued and how much money the claimer might actually be able to get from "your org".
There is probably way too much in the air for anyone to answer your question, especially at that level of generality.
This is a opportunity for bridge funding, so presumably the grantee would have spent additional funds in the amount of the bridge grant that they would not have spent otherwise.
So the risk that Nonlinear's generosity ends up in the bankruptcy estate somehow seems acceptable to me given the strong argument for the program, the amounts involved, and the low likelihood of clawback litigation against small grantees in the very near term (there are bigger fish for the estate to go after first).
What was apparently a good intentioned move seems to be getting sidetracked by the majority of anonymous (and non anonymous) comments. Quite unfortunate.
Can't we all just kiss and make up? We are supposed to be altruists, right? RIGHT???
On a more serious note, I don't personally know and have never worked personally with Kat or Emerson but I've been a member of one of the Nonlinear/Superlinear discords for some weeks now and have interacted with Drew and a few others and that place feels more or less like a family where everyone's opinion is valued and respected.
They are very open, helpful and supportive people and one of the most welcoming of all the EA communities I've been in so far (I'm quite new to EA, about three months old in the community). I've never felt any negative vibes interacting with them and I am of the strong opinion that the work being done there is highly impactful and relevant to EA.
All the same I believe "there is no smoke without fire" as they say and I believe some kind of official investigation should be made into these allegations (if possible). But I don't think this thread is the best place to discuss this issue as it distracts from the import of the original post (which would be beneficial to a lot of people in the community given the current situation of things).
The anonymous accuser should have created a different post and linked to it in a brief comment here for a more robust discussion of that issue without distracting from the original purpose of this thread.
And on the issue of forum voting, I think posters and commenters should NOT be able to vote on their own posts and comments. I believe the effects of being able to vote on one's own post/comment are net negative.
I’m Minh, current intern at Nonlinear. Since this thread is clearly picking up again, I’d like to provide my perspective as someone who’s worked at Nonlinear, and on the Emergency Fund. First, context:
What I can do is provide additional context. So far, we’ve received ~40 applications for the Nonlinear Emergency Fund. Kat has been personally following up on requests, coordinating with external funders and handling relevant documents for dozens of grantees. To my knowledge, ~10 of the most time-sensitive requests have been approved. The responsibility is kind of insane, since improper follow-up/delay has immediate consequences on the grantee’s end. About 8 requests indicated they needed to hear back in less than a week, and the shortest was less than three days.
Motivations behind the Emergency Fund
Keep in mind that none of this is something Nonlinear actually has to do. There’s practically no direct impact to us, and the emergency funding we give out are, to my knowledge, unconditional. I did see one grant that stipulated additional non-emergency funding contingent on producing policy-actionable research, but that doesn’t benefit Nonlinear either.
During the 2-hour call when Kat, Luca and I discussed the Emergency Fund, the 2 main focuses were:
At no point did I hear ulterior motives. And frankly, I feel like launching an emergency fund of your own money, when you don’t have to, isn’t the kind of thought process a selfish opportunist jumps at.
Also, keep in mind that, at the time:
I’ve told this story because:
Drew is great btw, but the accusations so far aren’t directed at him.
Good to know Drew treats you well, though you're right that the allegations so far aren't directed at him.
Given your impressions of Kat are largely based off a 2 hour call, I don't know if I'd consider this "significantly belief-updating" compared to other claims on this thread, though I'm glad you shared your experience.
Out of curiosity, did anyone ask you, or Luca to make comments on this post, or was this completely unprompted (aside from seeing the recent forum comments?